Dear Patrons of the Portland Aquarium,
I would like to take this time to address the public on the allegations against the Portland Aquarium. This controversy has taken on a life of its own and I would like to clear up any misconceptions and misunderstandings.
All the allegations are taken very seriously and we created a Frequently Asked Questions document that goes over all concerns. We felt the public deserved a complete investigation of our internal policies and procedures. This process has already begun. Various external industry professionals have visited our facility for preliminary analysis and constructive criticism. We also continue to visit industry forums both online and in person to promote continued learning. As we compare our procedures to industry standards and review the advice of these experts, we will be looking for any changes in protocol that can be implemented to improve the safety and well being of our animals. Any feedback that provides better health for our animals as a result of our audits and investigations will be instantly implemented regardless of costs. We intend to have Phase I of our husbandry procedure review implemented within 90 days.
The Portland community is very important to us and we expect you to hold us to a high standard. We share these animals together and want all of us to be able to enjoy the wonders of these creatures for many years to come. Providing families with an educational, memorable and inspiring experience is why we are here. And with 250,000 visitors so far, we have seen a lot of smiles walk out our door.
As we look to the future we are excited at the possibilities. Everything we have learned through this situation will be used to become even better. We are confident that our improvements will provide the assurance the community is looking for so we can continue to provide one of the best aquarium experiences in the country.
Vince Covino Cofounder/Owner Portland Aquarium
Frequently Asked Questions
Section I: Animal Health
Q: Have any of your fish starved to death?
A: No. We feed all our fish the adequate amount of food. Some fish choose not to eat because they feel sick and, much like humans, don’t feel an urge to eat. Factors in transportation can affect a fish’s desire to eat. When fish refuse food we weigh the option of force-‐feeding versus waiting for them to eat willingly. This is based on what is best for that particular fish.
Q: Were fish ever eaten by other fish?
A: When fish die of old age they go to the bottom of the food chain and become fish food. The fish that were allegedly “eaten” at the Portland Aquarium were experiencing the same lifecycle as they would have in the wild. Fish get weak, sick, or die in any aquarium, just as they do in nature, and the other fish will eat them. We do not purposefully put fish into a tank with fish we think will eat each other (with the exception of “feeder fish”).
Q; What are feeder fish and feeder snails?
A: Some fish or snails are purchased for the sole purpose of feeding other fish because we try to duplicate their natural ecosystem. Any fish that we put in our educational exhibits at the aquarium were not acquired to become food.
Q: Do you sacrifice animal health so you can cut costs?
A: No. Our animals’ health is our number one priority. Money is never a factor when deciding proper health care for a sick animal. It is actually a better business practice to keep fish as healthy as possible because of the investment we make in these animals.
Q: Did you ever deny your vet animal visits?
A: No. Never in the history of the aquarium has an employee requested a visit from a vet that was denied. In the event of an emergency, no advanced permission is required to have an animal seen by a vet.
Q: Have you had any fish lose their lives because they were stuck in a drain or jumped out of an aquarium tank?
A: The flow in our aquarium tanks is so low it cannot harm fish. Fish do not die by being stuck to a drain but rather die and then float to the drains. On rare occasions, fish jump from their tanks. We take several proactive measures to limit this occurrence. For instance, we have installed netting around tanks, which lowers the incidence of jumping. We also turn lights up in cycles to mimic nature and limit jumping.
A: We are not aware of any scientific evidence to prove or disprove the notion that fish get depressed as a result of aquarium life.
Q: Where do you acquire your animals?
A: We acquire our animals several different ways including through rescue, owners that have neglected them, Asian markets that sell fish for food, breeders and from the wild. When animals are purchased by us many are given a second chance at life. We are always looking for sources that can provide us with the healthiest fish available and even better animal transportation procedures.
Q: Why do you have a higher mortality rate?
A: The mortality data wasn’t read accurately. Most aquarium species have life expectancies ranging from eight months to 25 years. The majority of our species have life expectancies between two and eight years. The Giant Pacific Octopus, for instance, lives for roughly four years. However, if you acquire a three-‐year-‐old Giant Pacific Octopus, his life expectancy is one year from the acquisition date. When looking at a mortality rate you must consider:
- Acquisition ratio -‐ percentage of new animals versus current resident animals
- Life expectancy of each species and the number of species in each life expectancy class
- Condition at acquisition -‐ particularly with regards to donated and rescue animals
- Age at acquisition
- Intentional deaths -‐ feeder fish, feeder snails
- Those Dead on Arrival (DOA) from shipping
Any aquarium in the beginning of the animal acquisition phase, as Portland was from January to July of 2013, is going to experience higher mortality percentages than an established facility.
Q: Do you quarantine your animals?
A: Yes. Before being combined with other animals, all fish are appropriately quarantined to ensure they are safe, disease free, and cannot harm other fish. In some cases, fish are quarantined off site or by our suppliers, and arrive with a bill of health verified from a vet. In these cases, they may only be in our quarantine systems long enough to ensure typical behavior. In other cases, some fish are put immediately on exhibit and quarantined on exhibit because they are the only fish in that exhibit. Currently we have that situation at the Portland Aquarium, where a stingray was quarantined on exhibit safely. Our staff biologists recommended we implement a more detailed tracking system so that quarantine is more effectively measured and tracked for incoming animals. This record system is visible to all team members and includes all new arrivals, current health of each animal, number of days in quarantine, and other pertinent factors such as any medications being utilized and frequency of feeding. This new protocol introduced this spring has been warmly received and effectively implemented by our dedicated team members. We will continue to review and enhance our quarantine procedures as we discover ways to make more improvements.
Section II: Relationships with Other Entities
Q: Is the Humane Society investigating you?
A: As a result of the recent media articles, the Humane Society has begun an investigation. We have already called to invite them in for a full and thorough review. We are supportive of their investigation and will serve as an aid throughout the process.
Q: Has UT Austin put the ultra high tech exhibit partnership on hold? Does this mean the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) exhibit will not be built?
A: UT Austin has asked that we suspend our partnership with them until they have better clarity on the recent media articles. We believe they would be a superb partner and will be working to get this partnership back on track. Regardless, the aquarium will create wonder and admiration for the species of our planet with or without this exhibit. We believe this proposed exhibit will enhance the awareness of STEM and is an invaluable asset to the Austin community.
Q: Are you in compliance with the City of Austin permits?
A: We have been working with the City of Austin through our entire building process and they have been very clear on their expectations for this special zoning. All of our permits are clearly displayed on the front door of the Austin Aquarium. These include one from the Planning and Development Review Department, printed on June 13, 2013, entitled “Determination of a Site Development Exemption Request…. “Covino Aquarium.” It states, “Your request has been approved.” Also displayed is our limited permit from the city of Austin that approves us for the next scope of construction work. The city of Austin has a complete set of plans for the Austin Aquarium. Certificate of Occupancy is issued after construction is completed and inspected, not before.
Q: Did the city of Austin ask you to remove animals from your site?
A: We inaccurately presumed that holding our animals on site was not out of compliance with city guidelines. When a city official performing a routine inspection requested that we relocate our quarantine to an offsite location, the animals were relocated to an offsite location immediately. Offsite quarantine locations are not atypical in the aquarium industry, and the animals receive the exact same quality of care offsite as they do onsite.
A: We are taking the steps necessary to become AZA and ZAA accredited. This is a long and difficult process but we are working on the requirements to apply for these associations. Not all aquariums are AZA members and many did not open as AZA members. It can take years before an aquarium can achieve the requirements.
Section III: Personnel
Q: Do you currently have an aquarium vet?
A: Most public aquariums do not have a vet on staff simply because the need for a vet is isolated. We have a vet for emergencies and unusual situations. Our staff is highly trained in animal care and can treat most common diseases with over the counter medicines. If there is a situation that needs more assistance, our vet is conferred immediately.
Q: What about the reports that Ammon Covino has plead guilty to his felony charge of purchasing fish without a permit?
A: Yes, Ammon plead guilty to purchasing without a permit. The purchases in question were in connection with the Idaho Aquarium. The Austin and Portland Aquariums are not connected to Idaho Aquarium, which is a non-‐profit Aquarium. All fish at the Portland Aquarium and all those in Austin’s quarantine systems have always been legal and fully permitted.
Section IV: Business at the Aquarium
Q: What makes your aquarium different?
A: As one of the most interactive aquariums in the world, we believe our aquarium provides the most memorable, enjoyable, and meaningful experience for children. Our parental feedback has reinforced this observation.
Q: Will you be offering refunds to those who purchased a 50% off annual pass in Austin?
A: Yes, refunds can be requested at any point before opening date. Please allow three to five business days to process. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for a refund.
Q: What about refunds at Portland Aquarium?
A: Refunds for tickets or inactivated annual passes will be offered to anyone desiring them at Portland Aquarium. Please email email@example.com for a refund.
Q: What else is important for the community to know?
A: Our aquarium deeply cares about our local community. We like to show our support in the following ways:
- All foster children receive free admission into our Aquariums.
- We have participated in Clean Up the Clackamette Park (Oregon) events to help the natural ecosystem.
- Free military entry on Memorial Day.
- Free entry for mothers on Mother’s Day.
- Hundreds of family passes are given away annually to schools, charities and other community groups.
- We are leading the country in energy efficient aquariums by utilizing only LED lights to be in our facilities. We feel the most effective way to teach conservation to the public is to be good stewards ourselves.
All further inquiries or interview requests can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.